Hard Return

Hard Return|Hard Return

This show keeps dancers on their toes!

The beloved ballet “The Hard Nut” — a joyfully strange take on “The Nutcracker” — will leap back into the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 14. The Mark Morris Dance Group debuted the show at BAM in 1992 and has performed it somewhere every holiday season since. It never gets old, however, said one of its stars.

“The show is always different, every single night,” said Lauren Grant, who has played the leading role of Marie for 20 years. “It’s finely choreographed, but there is room to make changes as you go, especially in the party scene… You’re always getting a fresh show, but it’ll always be the show you know and love.”

Creator and choreographer Mark Morris used Tchaikovsky’s classic music, but set his show in an indeterminate 1970s-ish era, opening at a swinging suburban house party. He also restored a then-little known scene from the ballet’s original inspiration, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffman, in which a Rat Queen promises to restore beauty to a princess if a young man can crack the “hard nut” with his teeth.

Morris said that he wanted to restore some of the story’s energy to the ballet.

“I wanted it to be really interesting and fun and scary and delightful, like the Hoffmann story,” said Morris, from his company’s office in Fort Greene.

Morris also plays a role in his show, playing party host Dr. Stahlbaum and, in a later scene, the King. He dreads the makeup and wig, but said he still enjoys working with his fellow dancers each night.

“It’s fun, and I’m very close with the gentleman who plays Mrs. Stahlbaum [John Heginbotham],” said Morris. “There’s a lot of spontaneity, I love that.”

Over the years, his take on Dr. Stahlbaum has only varied to the degree that physics has required, said Morris.

“I’ve tried to make him age gracefully,” he laughed. “He’s gotten a little kookier. It’s not exactly autobiographical, but his knees have gotten worse.”

Grant, meanwhile, is eternally youthful in the role of Stahlbaum’s middle child, Marie. All of the child characters are played by adults, said Morris, because “children are terrible at playing children.”

Grant finds new aspects of her character every year, she said.

“I’ve had over 20 years to grow the role, to be deeply nuanced,” said the Prospect Heights dancer. “Whenever you bring a show back, there’s an opportunity to enhance the performance — it just gets more vibrant.”

The show was seen as subversive when it debuted, with a shocked New York Times review noting in a headline that it had “men in tutus” — a description that Morris disputes.

“It’s not men in tutus — it’s men and woman as snowflakes,” he specified.

But the show has plenty of actors in drag and same-sex dancing pairs, which was out of the mainstream in 1992, said Grant.

“Putting two men together in a pas de deux — that had a lot of shock value, whether it was intended to or not,” she said. “And it’s so interesting to see that it’s not shocking anymore. I think Mark was one of the people who made that change.”

In the years since the its debut, the ballet has become a Brooklyn tradition.

“It’s stood the test of time,” said Morris. “People who saw it as kids are bringing their own children — I love that. It’s a really becoming a family event.”

And Morris said “The Hard Nut” will continue for as long as audiences keep showing up.

“This has been a great run,” he said. “And we’ll keep doing it until something better comes along.”

THE HARD NUT | BAM Howard Gilman, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Pl., Fort Greene | Through Dec. 23: Thu.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $25–$125 at bam.org or 718-636–4100.

The host with the most: “The Hard Nut” creator Mark Morris, seen here in a 2010 production with Amber Star Merkens, did not always play Dr. Stahlbaum. “I used to be the drunk party guest and the beautiful princess, and then I wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t know if I was promoted or demoted.”